ISLAMABAD, Nov 4 (Reuters) Pakistan police rounded up hundreds of people today after President Pervez Musharraf defied US pressure and widespread domestic opposition by imposing a state of emergency.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who had urged General Musharraf to resist taking authoritarian measures, said Washington would have to review financial aid to Pakistan.
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said national elections, due in January, might be rescheduled after Musharraf declared a state of emergency yesterday and suspended the constitution.
The measure thwarted U.S. hopes of a transition to a civilian-led democracy in Pakistan.
''Obviously we are going to have to review the situation with aid, in part because we have to see what may be triggered by certain statutes,'' Rice told reporters in Jerusalem.
Washington has provided Islamabad, a major ally in its battle against al Qaeda in Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan, with around 10 billion dollars over the last five years.
But Rice rejected criticism that Washington had put too much faith in Musharraf since he seized power in a coup in 1999. ''The United States has never put all of its chips on Musharraf.'' Aziz told a news conference that ''the parliament could give itself more time, up to a year, in terms of holding the next elections.'' He said between 400-500 people were being detained but declined to say how long the state of emergency would last.
Musharraf said he acted in response to rising Islamist militancy in nuclear-armed Pakistan and what he called a paralysis of government by judicial interference.
Most Pakistanis and foreign diplomats believe his main motive was to prevent the Supreme Court invalidating his Oct. 6 re-election by parliament while still army chief.
Musharraf, in a midnight televised address, said the country was in grave danger of becoming destabilised. ''I cannot allow this country to commit suicide,'' he said after purging the Supreme Court of judges opposed to him and rounding up lawyers.
CHIEF JUSTICE FIRED Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, suspended eight months ago by Musharraf and reinstated in July, was fired after refusing to take a fresh oath following the suspension of the constitution.
Pakistan Television said that the cabinet, national and provincial assemblies would continue to function and that Abdul Hameed Dogar had been appointed as new Chief Justice.
A lawyers' movement that emerged at the vanguard of an anti-government campaign last March called for a countrywide strike on Monday to protest Musharraf's move.
Veteran Islamist Qazi Hussein Ahmed, leader of the opposition religious alliance, called for street protests to overthrow ''the military dictator'', during a speech to 20,000 followers on the outskirts of Lahore.
Pakistan's English-language newspapers were unforgiving of the draconian measures that included a ban on any coverage ''that defames, and brings into ridicule or disrepute the head of state'' on pain of up to three years' jail.
''General Musharraf's second coup,'' was Dawn's headline.
There were no troops or large numbers of police on the streets in the main cities. Barricades blocked the main boulevard to the presidency building in Islamabad, where police arrested 40 opposition activists including a former chief of the army's Inter Services Intelligence agency, Hameed Gul, a supporter of Islamist causes.
WAVE OF ATTACKS Musharraf said he still planned to move to civilian-led democracy. He had been promising to quit the army and become a civilian leader if he was given a second five-year term.
Pakistan's internal security has deteriorated sharply in recent months with a wave of suicide attacks, including an assassination attempt on former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto last month that killed 139 people.
In July, Musharraf ordered troops to storm the Red Mosque in Islamabad to crush a Taliban-style movement based there.
At least 105 people were killed in the raid and a wave of deadly militant attacks and suicide bombings followed in which more than 800 people have been killed.
In a fillip for the army, however, pro-Taliban militants set free Today 211 Pakistani troops they had held captive since late August in a tribal region near the Afghan border, a military spokesman said.
Bhutto flew back to Pakistan on Saturday from a brief visit to Dubai and accused Musharraf of imposing ''mini-martial law'' in a move to delay elections ''by at least one or two years''.
Another leading opposition figure, former cricket captain Imran Khan, was put under house arrest, but escaped hours later.
REUTERS NY RK2245